“ Ms Burney said she would be open to travelling across Australia with her Coalition counterpart and friend Ken Wyatt — who last week became the first Aboriginal person to hold the indigenous affairs portfolio — to ask families whose loved ones had ended their own lives how they believed the situation could have been prevented.
The sheer horror of the crisis was revealed in The Weekend Australian, which reported that 77 indigenous Australians had taken their own lives in the first five months of 2019, including seven in the past week.
Another suicide yesterday brought that figure to 78 since January 1.
Linda Burney is now Shadow Indigenous Affairs Minister. See Article Part 1 Below and full Indigenous shadow ministry Part 2
“ For the past week, Indigenous and other leaders have been campaigning in The Sydney Morning Herald for an Indigenous Voice to Parliament. I, too, pray this campaign succeeds.
Empowering Indigenous Australians in the decisions that affect their destiny is critical to addressing the entrenched disadvantage they endure – the deplorable health, employment and incarceration statistics that are reflected in the shocking suicide numbers.”
Gerry Georgatos is the national co-ordinator of the National Critical Response Trauma Recovery Project. He previously led the federal government’s National Indigenous Critical Response Service : see Part 3 in full
Part 1 : Families first in Burney’s bid to tackle suicide crisis
Linda Burney wants to talk to the broken families of young indigenous people who have taken their own lives, to help find solutions to the suicide crisis, after being appointed Labor’s first Aboriginal spokeswoman for indigenous Australians.
Stressing that youth suicide — particularly among regional, rural and remote communities — was not a “new tragedy”, Ms Burney said the key to turning around the devastating trend was a sharper focus on early intervention, ensuring Aboriginal people worked for and with youth mental health organisations, and a strengthened commitment to research on the factors behind the crisis.
Ms Burney said she would be open to travelling across Australia with her Coalition counterpart and friend Ken Wyatt — who last week became the first Aboriginal person to hold the indigenous affairs portfolio — to ask families whose loved ones had ended their own lives how they believed the situation could have been prevented.
The sheer horror of the crisis was revealed in The Weekend Australian, which reported that 77 indigenous Australians had taken their own lives in the first five months of 2019, including seven in the past week. Another suicide yesterday brought that figure to 78 since January 1.
“Youth suicide is the end of a very long line for people and it’s not a new issue,” Ms Burney told The Australian. “I want to really make that clear. I know it’s like everyone is talking about it now, but this has been an entrenched issue within Aboriginal communities for a very long time. The issue of early intervention is really important. Not just intervention in the year before or the two years before (they potentially take their life), but investment in early childhood education, healthy living, being strong in your culture and strong in yourself. Those things don’t come about when you’re 14 or 15, they’re things you build over a whole lifetime.”
Ms Burney’s beloved 33-year-old son, Binni, was found dead in October 2017 at their family home. There were no suspicious circumstances.
The former NSW state MP said she had avoided indigenous portfolios over her nearly 18-year political career, but she felt now was the time to take on the role.
“The suicides in the last three years, were there one or two common strands that every awful situation contained? I don’t know where the research is and we need to know more about it,” she said.
“(I want to) visit (affected families), sit down with them and talk to them. That’s absolutely crucial. They have to be part of putting forward what needs to happen.”
She suggested “very fine” youth mental health services that received government funding should ensure they had an indigenous strategy or employed Aboriginal people to demonstrate that Aboriginal children were being helped.
But many on the frontlines of the nation’s indigenous suicide crisis say funding for grassroots 24-7 prevention services is seriously lacking.
Noeletta McKenzie, a highly respected youth worker in suicide prevention in the Northern Territory, is the manager of the Balunu Foundation in Darwin, a small but mighty indigenous-owned and operated youth service that is aiming to break the cycle of disadvantage by connecting kids to identity and culture.
Balunu, like many similar organisations, cannot keep up with demand. Ms McKenzie has just enough funding for three staff, including herself, and each grapples with a “huge workload”. She estimates she has about 20 kids on her books in Darwin, and another 20 involved in Balunu’s outreach program.
“The kids we work with are under the poverty line, some are couch-surfing, some are homeless,” she said.
“We pick our kids up for all our programs, and we always put on a big lunch for them. For some of these kids, that could be their first feed that day, or their first feed since breakfast the day before. We don’t clock off. It can get overwhelming. I stay up all night inboxing (messaging) on Facebook with a young person who is self-harming, to get them through the night.”
Ms McKenzie said Australia needed a minister for indigenous suicide prevention. “We really need to get very serious about suicide in this country,” she said.
Tragically, the 42-year-old Darwin-based youth worker is one of many grappling both professionally and personally with the suicide epidemic.
Her beloved nephew, Sabo Young, was just 24 when he took his life in February last year. As the senior youth worker, caretaker of the youth centre, and a qualified youth justice worker in Maningrida in remote Arnhem Land, Sabo was always on call, often staying awake all night to talk a child out of suicide.
Passionate about his job, adored by his family, and idolised as a big brother by the kids he mentored, Sabo saved countless lives.
“It was a big shock to our family,” Ms McKenzie said of her nephew’s sudden death. “Sabo was a role model. He was the big brother one, and like a son to me.
“Anyone who works on the frontline, dealing with young people with suicidal thoughts, everyone feels that weight. We’ve also got to care for the carers.”
If you or someone you know may be at risk of suicide, call Lifeline (13 11 14) or the Suicide Call Back Service (1300 659 467), or see a doctor
Australian Labor Party Anthony Albanese MP has put First Nations issues high on the Labor agenda in his Shadow Cabinet lineup. First Nations Federal Labor Caucus (FNCC) will be the body that supports the First Nations’ policies process.
Appointments to the Shadow Ministry.
Linda Burney is now Shadow Indigenous Affairs Minister.
Senator Patrick Dodson is Shadow Assistant Minister in Reconciliation & Constitutional Recognition
Warren Snowdon MP is now Shadow Assistant Minister in Indigenous Affairs
The high rates of suicide and incarceration rates, in particular of young First Nations people, is the immediate focus, along with the discriminatory CDP policy.
Children’s graves in a row: the Indigenous youth suicide emergency
I remember a 10-year-old Indigenous child lost to suicide. The year before her death, she found her 11-year-old first cousin had taken his life. Two years earlier her 13-year-old sister had taken her life. They lived in crushing poverty and confronted an arc of distress born of that inescapable poverty.
For the past decade, I’ve focused my research and working life on suicide prevention and its indisputable intersection with poverty.
From a trauma recovery vantage, I’ve worked alongside more than 1000 suicide-affected families. These include hundreds of First Nations families. I’ve journeyed to more than 600 First Nations communities.
I attended the funerals of three children in one community – three burials in five days, three graves in a row. Hundreds of mourners weeping, wailing. Weeks later, the loss of two more young people would make it five graves in a row of youth unlived.
One in 17 of all deaths of First Nations people is a suicide, while half of all deaths of Indigenous youth aged 17 and younger is a suicide. First Nations children account for almost 90 per cent of the suicides of children aged 14 and younger. The nation should weep.
The suicide rate of First Nations Australians is 2½ times that of the overall Australian rate. Now consider this: 14 per cent of Australians live below the poverty line while 40 per cent of First Nations Australians do.
That’s a 2½ times differential – an absolute correlation. In my research, experiential and otherwise, nearly 100 per cent of the suicides of First Nations peoples are of individuals who lived below the poverty line.
For the past week, Indigenous and other leaders have been campaigning in The Sydney Morning Herald for an Indigenous Voice to Parliament. I, too, pray this campaign succeeds. Empowering Indigenous Australians in the decisions that affect their destiny is critical to addressing the entrenched disadvantage they endure – the deplorable health, employment and incarceration statistics that are reflected in the shocking suicide numbers.
The Indigenous Voice will be a reason for long-term hope. It may well not happen, however, in this term of government. The suicide emergency needs focus now.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Health Minister Greg Hunt have pledged a pronounced focus on suicide prevention, particularly youth suicide. This is to be applauded. So is the historic appointment of Ken Wyatt as the nation’s first Indigenous Minister for Indigenous Australians.
But I had hoped the federal government would announce a Minister for Suicide Prevention. I believed that Ken Wyatt – as a widely respected Indigenous man, and with his background in health administration – was uniquely qualified to taken on such a role.
Minister Ken Wyatt, with his substantive education and health backgrounds, is the best shot Australia has had thus far to further long overdue lifesaving legacies.
Each year of this century the First Nations suicide toll has been higher than the preceding year. This year, once again we are heading to another record. Thus far, there have been 78 suicides of First Nations Australians, 20 aged 18 or younger, more than half aged 26 or younger. Of all weeks, the toll shot up by seven last week. That was Reconciliation Week.
As somebody with years immersed in suicide prevention who is not desktop-bound, here is what I want everyone to know: suicide is not complex. It is multi-factorial and multi-layered with an arc of issues, some which intertwine, but it is not complex. There is an underwriting narrative – poverty. More than two-thirds of the Australian suicide toll is intersected by poverty and a concomitant accumulation of life stressors.
Eight of 10 First Nations children in remote areas do not complete school. Even in our capital cities, one in two First Nations children living in public housing do not complete school.
There are guiding lights. Like overseas-born children who fled to Australia from oppressive disadvantage, First Nations youth who go to university are among the most likely and most driven to succeed.
Unless governments heed and focus, more children than ever before will be lost. We must prioritise those most in need, those who languish in shanties without white goods, without secondary schools, without recreational facilities.
Of the many tragedies I have confronted in my work, hauntingly etched in my mind’s eye are three children who are still alive. Two years ago, they were aged six, eight and 10 when – together – they attempted suicide. They were saved by older children.
We have many more children to save.
Gerry Georgatos is the national co-ordinator of the National Critical Response Trauma Recovery Project. He previously led the federal government’s National Indigenous Critical Response Service.